In May 2012, journalist Amanda Ripley and researcher Marie Lawrence worked together with AFS Intercultural Programs to conduct a survey of exchange students. 202 students completed the survey. It should be noted (as a limitation of the study), that of the respondents, “a significant number (19%) had studied in Italy. Of international respondents, a large group (37%) had come to the United States from Germany. These ratios mirrored the distribution of AFS students generally.” Of the participating countries in the survey, the high-achieving nations included Denmark, Finland, and Hong Kong.
This survey was designed to ask the experts – students – about their experiences with education in their home country versus abroad. The goal was to shed light on why America underperforms in education compared with many other countries in the world.
There are five topics highlighted in this survey: technology, difficulty (of subject matter), parental freedom, importance of sports, and praise. Here are some key highlights within each of these topics.
“International and U.S. students agreed that there was more technology in U.S. schools in U.S. schools: 70% of international students and 73% of U.S. students. This is significant because the U.S. also spends more more per student than most other countries. Evidently, increasing the amount of technology in our schools won’t solve the education crisis in our country.
“International and U.S. students agreed that school in the United States was easier than school abroad.” In all, 92% of international students and 70% of U.S. students agreed on this point. When compared to education powerhouses like Finland, Poland, and South Korea, the United States lacks rigor in our education system.
International and U.S. students agreed that U.S. parents gave their children less freedom than parents abroad: 63% of international students and 68% of U.S. students agreed on this point.
Importance of Sports
“91% of international students and 62% percent of U.S. students said U.S. students placed more importance on doing well in sports than did students abroad.”
“Roughly half of international and U.S. students said their U.S. math teachers were more likely to praise student work” than teachers abroad.
While this survey was limited in size and scope, it helps to collaborate insights regarding why America’s education system is so broken. Imagine, for example, what academic gains could be achieved if this country saw a systematic shift in focus from sports to academics in high school. More controversially, what if our country spent less on technological bells and whistles and instead paid teachers more?
The results of this survey provide us with a great starting place for discussing the problems with our education system. Asking students about their experiences in school helps reveal patterns and suggest counter-intuitive paths of inquiry leading to practical solutions to the problems we face.